Thursday, June 12, 2008

America, I'm home.

I'm back. I'm home.

I don't know what everyone was on about. I've been home nearly a month and half now and I've yet to experience any "reverse" culture shock. My re-adjustment to America has gone extremely smoothly. The only exception being my inability to re-enter the realm of full-time employment. I returned to America on the 1st of May, landing in San Fransisco to stay with my good friend Eric Persha. Also awaiting me there were John and Kyle. I couldn't have asked for a better group to welcome me home to America. For me the weekend was, simply put, amazing. The ability to hang out with three people who have known me for so long, to not have to tell back stories, for them to just know. It felt as if I had left for a long weekend and returned. There was no awkward moments, ones you may expect after not seeing people for years on end. It was the perfect way to enter America on the right foot; with old friends, making new stories and telling old ones. With all my other friends it has been the same. I count myself as very lucky.

I do apologize for the lack of blogs regarding the final 3 months of my cycle trip. I do plan on posting them. More so for my own behalf, than anyone else's. But I do hope you all check back here in a months time to see my blogs regarding Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.

The trip itself was a large reason I have had little problems re-adjusting to life in the west, it was a gradual re-introduction. Coming across travelers throughout my journey and continually having to adjust to a new place, people, and scenery daily for 5 months. It made coming home less of a shock than it would have coming from such a community based culture (the Philippines) to such an individualistic culture (America). The trip proved to be the perfect buffer.

"So what is the next step?"

That is the million dollar question. The one I wince at every time I hear. I wish I fully new, but knowing may take all the fun and anticipation out of this exhilarating time. Currently I'm looking for work in the community outreach, economic development fields in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. Why MN? Well my girlfriend, yes, I said girlfriend, is living there. She will be finishing her Masters in Public Health sometime at the end of next year. Seeing I need to find work somewhere I figured I'd focus somewhere close to her. So that is my current step towards my "next step."

I would love to hear from all of you, please feel free to contact me on my email; or on my cellphone; 414 759 5379.

Its great to be home.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Yet again...

Yes folks, yet again I am far behind on my blogs. To come, I don't know if sooner or later, will be blogs on; my fun in the sun in Thailand, including a fantastic live aboard dive trip, madness in Burma, its not always fun to have the military point guns at you, and the fantastic Temples of Angkor and the emotional trials of walking through the Cambodian killing Fields.

In the mean time I have uploaded a large number of photos to my facebook account, so please go check them out, unfortunately you have to sign up to facebook to view them. Sooner or later I will get those pics on here as well!

At the moment Tintin and I are in northern Laos and thus far Laos has been my favorite country of the trip. Its been stunning and I've heard it only gets better. I have a little over three weeks remaining on my visa before I will be entering Vietnam on the 13th of April. My trip has changed with regards to its final destination and I will be heading home from Hanoi, Vietnam, on the 2nd of May. Just in time to avoid the Midwest winter...I hope.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

East-coast and up. Mainland Malaysia.

After leaving Singapore, we headed up the East coast of Malaysia. After spending almost a month already in Malaysia (Borneo), and with it being the wrong time of year to visit some of Malaysia's diving destinations on this coast, we decided to "cane it" up the coast. Both Tintin and I had visions of Thailand in our heads. The beaches, a rest from biking, Diving, and of course, cheaper beer. We wanted to get there. Fun in the Sun was waiting for us.

We made the trip from Singapore to the boarder of Thailand in 10 days time, taking one days rest in the small surfing, ex-hippy, town of Cheriting. The riding started off okay, but by the last half of the trip up the coast the scenery began to really become impressive, and we finally started biking through smaller, back water, villages. All that I had hoped the bike trip would be was arriving.

In the city of Terengganu we came across a gorgeous Mosque. It was made of glass and shimmered off of the water. It was by far the most impressive religious structure I had yet to see in Asia and Tintin, who has spent plenty of time in the Middle east, said it was the most impressive Mosque he had ever seen.

Malaysian food isn't my cup of tea, however Indian food is everywhere here, and I absolutely love that! I think for most my time through Malaysia I must have eaten at least six roti canis each day, an Indian flat bread that is crisp and fluffy all at the same time. You get a side of curry sauce with each one to dip it in, I could simply live off these without every complaining. They are pure bliss. Below is a number of them being prepared. Before they are cooked on the stove they will be thrown in the air, much like pizza dough is. It is fun to watch but better to eat.

We did however discover Kickapoo Joy Juice. Its impossible to describe, but it is an excellent soft drink/juice. However it has devilish influences on Tintin.

Riding up the coast, we really got into a groove of biking. Day in and day out. It went smoothly and we had little to no problem with either of our bikes. The heat and rain stayed at bay for the most part. I really feel that on this stretch I became truly bike fit. I would find myself tired at the end of each day, but far from exhausted. As I mentioned in previous blogs, our daily routine is rather mundane, however I love it. It is the first time since High School that I have done this much exercise day in and day out and it is having a fantastic effect on my energy levels and my state of mind. I just feel good. I wake up each day genuinely excited to bike. I couldn't ask for much more from the trip thus far...

Singapore with no Slings.

The scariest two hours of my life on a bike occurred while I was in Singapore. It was beyond intense, however while I was in the mix of it I was so focused on living that I didn't realize how scared I was. Once it was over, my hands shook, blood slowly crept back into my knuckles which where white from gripping my handlebars so hard and I took my first deep breath in hours.

The day started off pleasantly well. Flying from Kuching to Johor Bahru was painless, with the Airline giving us absolutely no hassles with our bikes. Once landing in Johor we than biked 40 kilometers to get to the Malaysian/Singapore causeway to cross into Singapore. Easy enough. We had directions to a couchsurfer's house, Pontis, where we were staying for three nights.

Our directions called for us to go on the Singapore expressway. I thought nothing of this, I had been on the Malaysian Highways, they weren't pleasant to bike, yet they were like all other highways I had encountered in Asia. I was yet to learn that Singapore is not Asia.

It happened without me consciously noticing it. Next thing I knew I was on an eight lane express way with cars, simi-trucks, buses, and motorcycles flying by me at 120 kph. This wasn't that bad. But when we had to cross four lanes of traffic for on and off ramps, or simply bike by an off-ramp or on ramp when previous stated vehicles were exiting and entering, all while we were cruising at a speed no faster than 25kph. It was not safe. We only had 20 kilometers to travel, but we quickly found ourselves lost, missing our exit as only we can do while going so slowly. We ended up on the wrong side of Singapore, finally leaving the express-way to ask directions. It was only than that Tintin and I looked at each other, I could see the wear, fear, and stress in his eyes and I knew he could equally see it in mine. We vowed not to return to the expressway no matter what. We ended up paying a taxi to take us to Pontis's house, and than finding detailed directions online to leave Singapore by a different route.
This experience, like so many others, was a cheap lesson. Before getting to Bangkok, I will take train from about 100 km before the city. I have no desire to ever return on my bike to a road even similar in nature to that of Singapore. For those of you in the Midwest, it would be like biking on I-90 leading into Chicago, but not at rush hour when its bumper to bumper. Only there someone would probably run me over with road rage before I made it 2 miles.
Once safely there, I loved Singapore. If only I had more money! It is the consumption capital of Asia! I saw more cars that cost over 6 figures in an hour than I saw in 3 years working at the Pfister Hotel. I also enjoyed the most expensive beer I have bought in Asia, at $10 USD for a single Budweiser. It was good, and I drank it slowly, thinking of Derek Reinke while doing so. This took place in the court-yard bar of the world famous Raffels Hotel. It was fun to sit and try to imagine what that bar, the original location of the first Singapore Sling, had seen throughout the last century. It was an unchanged oasis from the rest of the bustling city outside.
We also went to the roof of the Swiss Hotel to have a drink and look out over the city. From there you could see the sprawl that has become Singapore, creeping further into the distance, and higher into the sky.
I look forward to returning to this city, for the few liberties its citizens give up, they gain so much in cleanliness, security, comfort and order. I could see myself happily living there. However upon my next return, whenever or however it happens, I will not be on a traveler's budget, and I will enjoy what is perhaps the most unbelievable cluster of bars I have ever strolled through in my life. By cluster I mean hundreds! Just walking through on a Saturday night left me with an urge to throw caution to the wind and have a blinding night out. If I had done so, I may have been returning home a month sooner at the cost of one night. I kept telling myself, "Next time, next time." Indeed.

Borneo by Bike

After Mt. Kinabalu I was ready to begin biking. Yet after two days of rest I still had a hard time walking down, or up, any set of stairs, or curb, without the helpful assistance of a handrail. In the cases where no handrail presented itself I had too improvise by attempting to walk like a decrepit, elderly athlete that had had nine too many knee operations. This worked well. Yet in comparison to Tintin I was hopping around like spry young tot. I took joy in this, also in nudging him over the edge of six-inch high sidewalk curbs, which seemed to cause him a large amount of pain and discomfort.

Regardless of our pain, on the January 3rd we were on our way, biking through Borneo. I was excited for this stretch of the trip. It was the least “biked” of our route, we could find little information on the route, helping to give it the feeling of true adventure; added by the fact it was our first bit of biking outside the Philippines. I had envisioned biking through long costal stretches and zigzagging along rivers and passing deep into rain forests.

Nothing of the sort occurred.

Malaysian Borneo, at least the coast, is barren. With the, now obvious and glaring, exception of mile after mile of palm tree plantations for the profitable industry of cooking oil. It must be profitable; we saw little else in the 1000 kilometres we biked in Borneo. Neatly planted rows of palm trees going on forever, on what used to be the lush rainforest I had envisioned myself biking through. While we were in Borneo there were rations put on the use and purchase of cooking oil. Apparently demand is very high and supply is not. I guess this means goodbye to the remaining low land rainforest. One Malaysian paper had pictures of the police raiding a Chinese grocer who was smuggling cooking oil. The article’s wording and pictures gave the impression that 300 boxes of pure cocaine had been seized, but instead it was cooking oil. Much more serious.

So the scenery wasn’t the best, but as with all else, we made the best of it. We did see some great scenes, however short, along the road. The best was the hundreds of monkeys we saw on a daily basis on the few stretches of road that had regular vegetation (non palm tree). Some would jump and play, others just meander along the road, some would yell, growl, and show their teeth, and yet more would be on random, man made gyms, such as electrical poles and lines. We saw a pair of large, endangered, Hornbill birds. While biking you see lots of Mother Nature’s roadside causalities, things that many US Southerners could probably make into a tasty stew. Tintin, while biking by what he assumed was yet another snake killed while sunning itself on the road, was quite surprised to have it pop up and flair its hood out before making a run for the grass. It was a cobra.

Besides Mt. Kinabalu national park we also stayed at two more for a few days each. One, Niah National Park, contains some of the world’s biggest caves. The oldest, to date, human skull found in Southeast Asia was found in one; it was carbon dated to be at least 40,000 years old. We spent my 27th birthday exploring these caves and they were truly aw-inspiring. It is hard to estimate, but I figure that in two of the caverns you could fit at least 3 to 4 football fields in each. They were massive, and cross-ventilated, providing natural housing for what could be thousands. I got lost in my own daydreams thinking of what these walls had seen; possibly the first forms of civilization for modern man. The third, and last, National Park we stayed in was Kubah. We went there after arriving in our final Borneo destination, Kuching. It was located about 50 kilometres from Kuching and was home to Matang Wildlife Center. A fantastic volun-tourist orientated and funded program working on rehabilitating orangatangs, sun bears, gibbons, and other native Borneo species. We received a very warm welcome and personal tour by the very interesting and informative managers. We also managed to find time to take a hike to one of the park’s three waterfalls.

On the biking side of things, all went fairly well. Most days found us up early, around six or seven, to avoid the heat and rains. We would bike anywhere from a minimum of 50 kilometres, to a maximum of 163 kilometres (101 miles). We stopped every hour or two for food and/or drinks, which worked out to every 20-40 kilometres. When we got to our destination of the day we would find a place to sleep, mostly in small guesthouses or Chinese hotels. Some were fantastic, others quite shady. We would shower, find food, wander around town a bit and go to bed fairly early, normally before nine at night. Its not a crazy lifestyle but it is very rewarding. We see life go by in places that you wouldn’t normally find yourself on vacation or while backpacking. This is what I like most.

Malaysian Borneo was not at all what I had envisioned it to be. I didn’t get to make it far inland to the well-known and fabled long houses, nor did I get a chance to dive one of the world’s top dive spots, Sipidan. While on a bike, and with a budget (both for time and money), you can’t do everything. However we did spend 25 days there, and even if it wasn’t what I expected I enjoyed it tremendously. I would be lying if I didn’t admit my excitement for the remainder of our trip. Mainland Southeast Asia will prove to be very different, especially once leaving Malaysia. It’s nice to have 2,000 biked kilometres done. I was concerned I may bore of it, but I am not, and with what is to come I don’t foresee that I ever will. I’m more excited now for the remaining 4,000ish kilometres than I ever was before!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Blogs to come soon....

Sorry all, I've been a busy boy. Fun in the Sun is hard work; diving, biking, hiking. You know the drill. Anyway I got blogs written but they are on Tint's cpu, which isn't with me. We split paths for a week, him to do some chillaxing on the Gulf of Thailand coast and for me to go dive at Sipidan Islands. In a week or two I'll have blogs up on Borneo, Singapore, mainland Malaysia and southern Thailand (where we are now). We're over 3,000km now on bike kilometers. So about half-way. It looks like I may be heading home from Hanoi instead of Hong Kong; for a multitude of reasons. Sometime the last week of April or first week of May. Hope your all well!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

New Years Eve. Yin and Yang.

A New Years Eve that will not soon be forgotten. Firstly I'm now in Borneo. Tintin and I arrived on Christmas day. We stayed in the city of Kota Kinabalu for 3 days, exploring the city and doing some day trips outside the city. On the 29th we began our trip to the top of Mt. Kinabalu, the tallest mountain on Borneo at 4,095 meters (13,435 ft).

We started with a 92 kilometer bike ride from K.K. to the Kinabalu Park Headquarters. We tried to get as much information on the route's road as possible. It appeared on the the map to be a nice road, following the coast for 30 kilometers than heading inland towards the mountain. Most people told us the road was littered with hills but that the park was more or less at the base of the mountain. We thus were expecting a somewhat easy ride. We were very wrong.

After 20 kilometers of flat gorgeous road, we began to climb, still on nice roads, but at ridiculously steep inclines. This continued until we reached the park. 70 kilometers of intense climbing. Around the 50k mark we finally found a small restaurant. It was the first we had seen since beginning the bike climb. Both Tintin and I were famished and were excitedly expecting to eat. We were told the restaurant was closed. I was not a happy person. We bought a few sodas each and climbed upon our bikes to continue onwards, praying to any God to supply us with some meager rations. Just as we were peddling off a lady came running out of the restaurant telling us to come in and eat! I very obediently obeyed her command. It turns out the restaurant was closed for her 7 year old son's Birthday. After gorging ourselves on noodles and pechoy we than took pictures with the birthday celebrant and all his friends. I than thanked him over and over, if we hadn't been able to crash this young man's birthday party, well I don't know, but it would not have been good!

Fifteen kilometers from the park we came across our first town, it had a number of Malay Noodle houses and we stopped to eat again. We struggled with communication, pointing at random things we wanted in our food before a man came up and began talking to us in fairly decent english. He helped us with our orders and we than asked him if the remanding 15k was uphill or downhill. It was running late and if it was uphill we knew we had to eat and head off ASAP to avoid biking in the dark and rain, as both were coming. He told us it was all down hill from here. We were relieved. So relieved we had two full meals each and sat around for a cup of tea.

He lied.

That or there was some minor breakdown in our communication process. I prefer to think he lied and to blame the resulting 2 1/2 hours of riding my bike in the pitch black cold, raining weather on steep roads that traveled along deep ravines on him. I used his name in vain very often. I may never forget him...."Wilson."

An amazing hot shower at the Kinabalu Park Headquarters dorms lifted my spirits and prepared me for what was to come the following day. Hiking up 11,000 feet to the base camp accommodations of Mt. Kinabalu. Or at least I thought it had prepared me.

The hike took us 5.5 hours. A total of 13 kilometers. I started off fine, I thought I had a touch of a cold from the previous nights cycling adventures, but all and all I was in good spirits and ready to go. I stayed that way till we got within 2 kilometers of the base camp. From there it all went down hill. Unfortunately not literally but only figuratively. I thought the cold was gaining ground. I was feeling horrible, out of breath, no energy and very nauseous. Upon arriving at the dorms I quickly ate some food and retired to bed, we were to be up at 2:00 am for the summit push.

I didn't sleep a wink. I did throw up. At this point I should have been smart and realized I wasn't sick, but in fact was reacting very badly to the altitude. I'm stubborn and couldn't fathom not summiting. So at 2am on New Years Eve day I climbed out of bed, drank lots of water, cold meds, energy drinks, etc. As soon as I began the climb I entered a bit of dream world in my own head. Most of the climb I was far from the people in front of me and behind me. Leaving me lots of solitude to dive deeper into this dream world. I was fully dedicated on reaching the summit.

At 5:40am I did. I was exhausted and cold. It was zero Celsius. The coldest I have felt in 3 years. That didn't bother me, the exhaustion did. The sunrise was spectacular, the views stunning. I couldn't really appreciate either of them in that moment. I took some pictures, Tintin took some videos. Than all I wanted was to be off that bloody mountain. We started down.

By noon we were all the way down the mountain, at the Park Headquarters. Somewhere on the way down, about 2 kilometers below the base camp, I went from feeling like death himself to feeling like a kid in a candy store. I was chipper, talkative, full of energy and so happy I had not only summited but had gone from Kota Kinabalu to the summit of Mt. Kinabalu all on my own power, by bike and feet. Its amazing how quickly one can forget the misery of an event. This is when I started thinking clearly again and I began to realize I had not had a cold but in fact I had had Altitude Sickness (AMS). And yes, I know it was very unwise for me to summit, and yes I know I'm very lucky to be fine now. Lesson learned. Either way it was one hell of a New Years Eve morning. That was the Yin....

Than came the Yang. After getting to Park Headquarters we were to sore, tired, and excited to do anything other than be on that mountain for NYE night to bike the 92k back to K.K. Even if it was down hill. We threw our bikes on a taxi and headed into town. We got in to our pension house, had a nap and dinner and headed out for beers and to celebrate the New Year along with our morning's achievements. It was only when I was down the mountain that the mountain made me feel on top of the world. The evening was grand, we went to some bars on the ocean front, met some really interesting people, a kiwi (New Zealander) that joined us on the mountain, a Brit who was in KK studying brain sugary, another brain surgeon, an Indian who had done Mt. Kinabalu 5 times and Everest base camp, and many more people. It wasn't that crazy of an evening but a very fun one. We sat and had far too many beers talking the night away till 5 am. It was a New Years Eve of extreme opposites and contrasts. It was my Yin and Yang to bring in 2008. I hope the year can have the balance of that day, minus the extremes....

Happy New Years to you all!